I love Rey Mysterio. It’s a bit embarrassing really, but I’ve conceded this before. Look, no sane human should idolise fake fighters and I’m not here to suggest that Rey is any different but as far as fake fighting goes, he’s King in my view. I think that everyone agrees on Mysterio, he’s not only great but iconic, armed with increasing longevity too. Must say though, I sense that some don’t quite grasp the grandeur of his significance, the lengths that his legacy covers.
He’s incredibly influential but also timeless, setting a standard before perfecting so many other pieces of the performance. As Mysterio’s first WWE stint came to a merciful close in 2015, his career could quite reasonably be split in half. For a decade, Mysterio was the industry’s most spectacular acrobatic, blazing a trail as WCW’s standout Cruiserweight. That division hosted a squad of sparkling skill but on arrival, Mysterio was something a little different. He pushed the boundaries to their limits, the furthest feats, the highest highs.
That’s an impact that commands respect, a memory worth cherishing. In many ways, those times shaped the decades that have followed, as Nitro’s Cruiserweight exploits influenced a generation that’d soon dominate the wrestling landscape. The eras that followed WCW’s demise eventually featured a range of would-be Cruiserweights that were now headline acts. WCW’s fleet of flyers never managed that ascension in their own system but Mysterio was and is one of those names, doing much more than just setting the tone.
That half of Mysterio’s career was very different to the first though. After arriving in WWE, Mysterio adapted, steadily evolving to suit his new surroundings. In bursts, Mysterio was still as stunning as ever but his game had changed, finding a form that’d prove far more sustainable. Mysterio’s magic was now deeper than the physical thrills, deeply rooted in an authentic emotional investment. As the ultimate underdog, Rey was able to make people truly care, adding gravity to his each and every flurry.
Mysterio never felt truly backed by the WWE’s creative forces but his greatness was above that. If anything, it was a fitting side-plot, the giant-slayer that with each and every epic, came closer to slaying the biggest giant of all. He always had a point to prove, a statement to send. Though he may not have fit the mould of any stateside world champion that came before him, Mysterio could be the exception to that rule. His skill-set said so but more than that, his place in the audience’s hearts said so too.
Famously, Mysterio would reach that mountaintop at WrestleMania 22, but it wasn’t quite what it could’ve and probably should’ve been. That didn’t stop Mysterio’s mastery though, returning to form time and time again, producing immense work years later. In 2009 especially, Mysterio was arguably at a personal best in terms of balance, with that chapter or two being the last before his inevitable decline. Those years weren’t as loaded with daring thrillers that’d live forever but the consistency was unparalleled, cementing Mysterio as a historically great television wrestler.
Mysterio was just so watchable, able to find something of substance in the most aimless of offerings. Against uninteresting opponents with uninteresting setups, Mysterio would have interesting matches. They wouldn’t last long in the memory perhaps, not the classic world title epic but even still, such compelling television in a time that bell to bell, wasn’t always rich with that. After a run of that calibre, Mysterio’s time in WWE deserved a better conclusion, instead painfully stumbling to his 2015 departure.
At the time, Mysterio wasn’t inspiring much hope for a career revival. Instead, he was widely considered finished, physically decimated and just a spent force in general. As usual though, Mysterio soon proved otherwise though, rejuvenated in a world tour before eventually returning to WWE in 2018. Weirdly, things felt genuinely different in Mysterio’s case, as though he’d missed a whole generation’s entry. Due to injuries and such, he basically had, inactive for much of his original stay’s final portion.
Now though, Mysterio was ready to right those wrongs, combining with a new crop of talent to create clashes that’d only enhance his legacy. The most obvious opponent being Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, a third-generation Mexican star that seemed set for stardom. In the end, Mysterio would somehow outlast Andrade within that system but that didn’t stop them from together, producing some of the most electric matches in recent main roster memory. Andrade allowed Mysterio to display something striking, something almost new.
In those matches and honestly, the best bouts since Rey’s return to relevance, he was an incredible combination of his prior-selves. In broad strokes, Mysterio spent one decade as a daredevil and the next as a more traditional, restrained protagonist. That’s an incredible career, certainly but since then, Mysterio has found this mix of the two. Physically, Rey came back with a dynamism that just wasn’t present beforehand, lost along the way as schedule and style had forced him to slow.
Now though, Mysterio was innovating again, doing things that if silhouetted, would’ve seemed like Nitro throwbacks. He still had that emotional connection though also, an innate ability to earn sympathy with the simplest of sell. That’s an incredible blend for any talent at any time but for Rey to find it after already producing over two decades of ground-breaking brilliance, that’s something for the history books. Honestly though, that’s where Mysterio belongs in general at this juncture, even as he continues to produce, adding another highlight each and every month.
In fear of being presumptive, we’re likely in the homestretch of Rey’s in-ring career. I mean, he could prove otherwise, he has before but at 46, it feels as though even in his current form, the end is surely near. Naturally, that forces a sense of clarity when watching someone’s work. It’s hard to ignore the inevitable, difficult to get as lost on the weekly rollercoaster of wrestling television. Instead, everything has this grander meaning, an acknowledgment that this is all worth embracing.
After all, this can’t last forever, we won’t always have Mysterio matches every other Friday. He’s been so accessible for so long that it’s easy to lose sight of that, the reality that the time to enjoy this ride is running out. Though his performances have suggested otherwise for as long as we can remember, Rey Mysterio is human. This isn’t a never-ending comic book, though it may look that way at times. Personally, I’m going to appreciate Mysterio while I can, I’d recommend that you do the same.
At WrestleMania 37, history was made. Headlining night one, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks combined for a match that’ll live forever, a rare modern moment that felt like exactly that, a moment in time. This wasn’t forced and unearned, it was entrancing, a completely immersive experience that took fans on that familiar rollercoaster. They hit every emotion, never even threatening to overstay their welcome. Together, Banks and Belair provided the perfect conclusion to what’ll be an iconic three hours of WrestleMania, back in front of fans at last, a collective sigh of relief.
For Banks, that was always the goal and by 2021, it certainly felt overdue. Arriving on the main roster six years prior, Banks entered as the audience’s elected figurehead, soon being forcefully cemented below that position. Banks was featured and prominently too, but it never quite felt as it could, and perhaps should have. She wasn’t the centrepiece, still pursuing the potential that was so pronounced in NXT. On RAW and SmackDown, Banks had produced in a major way but it always felt in spite of the creative forces at hand.
By contrast, this was Belair’s first WrestleMania as a main roster member, being called up immediately after 2020’s empty arena edition. Following a slow start, Belair found her feet after being drafted to SmackDown, winning the Royal Rumble only three months later. A feud with Bayley was Belair’s only real preparation for such a scenario, performing exclusively without fans since leaving NXT. Before that, Belair did shine in the 2020 Royal Rumble, which boded well but even still, this was a serious sign of faith if nothing else.
Though the obvious destination as soon as Belair triumphed, her feud with Banks wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed. That didn’t lessen anyone’s confidence in the match itself though, even with Belair’s relative inexperience. Frankly, this felt really quite simple, Sasha Banks wasn’t missing in a WrestleMania main event, she’s probably not missing in any match of that magnitude. Banks is one of the most creative, prolific in-ring performers on earth and underwhelming build aside, she now finally felt positioned to succeed.
Not only was Banks central on ‘the grandest stage of them all,’ but she was opposite an opponent that represented unique possibilities. Simply put, Belair is an athlete unlike any other, almost certainly the best that this women’s division has ever seen. That unlocked opportunities that just weren’t feasible against anyone else, as Banks had an opponent with incomparable raw ingredients. Even though Belair didn’t have a decorated match catalogue yet, this felt like the perfect place to start, an immense mix of factors coming together at once.
Going in, the match felt can’t-miss, an inevitable match of the night candidate. In execution though, they strived for something far different, taking a bold detour that catapulted this beyond any year-end list. Finally reaching the stage that for over a decade, she’d so publicly strived for, Banks wasn’t seeking just another classic. Considering the talent involved, that almost felt too easy. An enthralling exchange of back and forth offence, that’s the safe route. Pack the thing with near-falls, and send them home happy.
That’s not what separates Sasha Banks though, it’s her attention to detail and her mind for a match’s nuance. It’s that trait which makes her chemistry with Bayley so magical, an element that’ll hopefully stay with Belair after working so extensively with both. Based on WrestleMania, that’s a fair assumption also, as Belair performed with the poise of a decorated veteran. She was certainly positioned to succeed too, as in the match of her dreams, Banks took things in a daring direction.
For just over seventeen minutes, Banks played the role of crash test dummy, almost exclusively bouncing around the WrestleMania ring. In the most innovative ways imaginable, Belair basically dominated proceedings, with Banks just trying to stay afloat. Every step seemed to spotlight another piece of Belair’s potential, bridging today’s skill-set and tomorrow’s projections in one fell swoop. Belair had long been circled as an eventual superstar and though she’d taken strikes towards that term at Royal Rumble, she was completing the process in front of our eyes at WrestleMania.
Now more than ever, engaging in-ring action is commonplace. That’s one thing, but having an idea that lives long in the memory, that’s another. Excitement is easy, something enduring is what events of this scale are built on. When I think back to Banks vs. Belair, I remember those same visuals that you do, the hair whip and just the many stunning combinations of Belair’s pure power with Banks’ brilliant brain. Beyond those clips that’ll always replay in my mind though, it’s the core concept that sticks most.
This match had one idea in mind, a clear goal to complete. After years of waiting to be the focus, Sasha Banks was selfless enough to so effortlessly reassign that honour when it mattered most. This was an opportunity that couldn’t be recreated, a moment that warranted more than just another epic. Banks didn’t need the protection of a grand, glitzy finishing stretch, Belair just needed to win. There will be another day for that sequence, another time for their most complete match but this was a chance to do something that lives forever.
At WrestleMania, Sasha Banks so willingly welcomed Bianca Belair onto a tier that had become increasingly exclusive. If things go as they should, the rest will be history, all traced back to a performance giving enough that in front of 25000 people, Belair became iconic. It was the right choice for the right talent, a decision that should shape the division’s next decade, setting the standard and starting a new era, all at once. In a landscape of the interchangeable, Banks and Belair set themselves apart, producing something not only timeless, but truly significant.
In many ways, it’s a throwback WrestleMania classic in the most modern fashion imaginable, one that’s ideas should inspire and motivate a generation.
If you’ve watched The Distraction podcast, you’ll probably know where I’m headed here. Well, considering that we’ve produced approximately 917 hours of audio at this point, there’s a good chance that you’ve forgotten it too. Thankfully, I have 24 articles to write and this fits the bill, so let’s take a trip down nightmare, or memory lane. Firstly, just want to stress that obviously, I’m only having fun here. I mean, it was pretty brutal but it’s a night at the fake fights nonetheless, can’t argue with that really.
Please do not allow my misfortune to sway your wrestling dream trip either, it’s still WrestleMania. It’s not a predictable thing but it is a spectacle so if that’s the goal, enjoy the ride when it comes. Unfortunately, my ‘WrestleMania moment’ was enough for a lifetime really, and I’m not even sure why. For those unaware, I attended WrestleMania 34, flying stateside and then sharing a road-trip to New Orleans. I know, I know, hang on, that’s not even a bad show you big sulker, grow up a bit, nerd!
All very fair but here’s my story anyway, best I can recall it at least. It’s this one particular moment that sticks with me, after Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax, of course. Not going where you’d think here though, as I think that was fine, actually! Looking back, the night was trending in one direction and we were all awaiting a non-existent revival, but that’s lost on us at the time. Most things are really, your legs are cramped and you’re sweating bullets, as there’s just no good way to dress for a 14-hour wrestling event.
Either way, the show started in grand fashion, featuring an inoffensive pre-show before three of the first four main card matches connected emphatically. I even got a tastemaker triumph in there along the way, correctly predicting the end of Asuka’s streak. Few things sum me up as much as that, objectively disagreeing with a decision but still, enjoying that I was proved right if nothing else. Beforehand, the Intercontinental Title triple threat was immense and to her credit, Ronda Rousey’s debut was historically great also.
Then, things took a turn. Quality was sacrificed for credibility, as The Bludgeon Brothers basically crushed New Day and The Usos. That was a respectable choice in truth, especially fine because I got to see the bout’s iconic rivalry reignited on Smackdown Live, two days later. By the way, the blue brand sent me home and I’m almost certain they did AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, which feels like something I should remember. Also, Dolph Ziggler followed Bud Murph and wore an Alexa Bliss shirt. Peak Dolph.
He was the trip’s final match, losing to Shinsuke Nakamura after being distracted by a fat guy that had been put to sleep by 205 Live. Lots of people fell asleep during that show, it ruled. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, The Bludgeon Brothers. Well, after that, The Undertaker returned and again, quality wasn’t the goal there. Understandable though and harmless too, a short spectacle after such daring initial bouts. After that, Daniel Bryan’s comeback was impressively boring, but such is the reality of Shane McMahon.
That was a stumble in my view, others probably feel the same about Bliss vs. Jax. Either way, I’ll never forget my relief after that match, Bryan bores be damned. My phone was on its last legs, a mere percent or two left standing, so I logged on for one last time. Believe it was the folks at Voices of Wrestling, inadvertently reassuring me from a distance. The tweet’s message was simple, basically saying that considering what’s left, we’re home and dry, this is safe as an excellent WrestleMania event.
What a result, we’d done the hard part and could now just enjoy ourselves, two world titles and a surprise ahead. Granted, I hadn’t moved since last week but still, AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura man, all hail! Well, 10 minutes later and I was surrounded by beachballs. At the time, I was probably very mad but in truth, their match was just misplaced. That approach can’t live as deep in a show as this was and so, they lost us almost immediately, fighting uphill from there.
It wasn’t a bad match, not even close but I also don’t remember it and am too scared to rewatch. That feels telling, but maybe it’s more indicative of me losing my mind at some point that night. It was all okay though, because Braun Strowman had a mystery partner next, so we were getting something exciting! It’s WrestleMania after all, perhaps a Samoa Joe return, maybe even Bobby Lashley’s re-debut. Then again, maybe it’ll just be Nicholas. Look, this was harmless but after 41 hours? No, it actually felt very harmful.
Oh well, we still have the main event, a rematch from three years prior, a classic clash between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of what came next, as the crowd completely rejected Reigns and as a result, the whole match itself. Again, I was probably mad at the time but looking back, they crowbarred Reigns into that role and ignored every retort, so it’s hard to be surprised that people didn’t restrain themselves after fourteen matches.
Not Reigns’ fault obviously, just another response to that growing resentment. This was closer to apathy though, a dismissive rejection that through circumstance alone, was becoming a familiar trait in Reigns main events. I’m thankful that he can rewrite that reality now, as he really is immense, just such a shame that in trying to smash him over, they so often got Reigns under. He lost that night too, which basically made the last year of programming feel pointless. Those of us still invested just wanted the payoff, but it had been delayed again.
As people slowly departed, there was such a strange atmosphere that night. It wasn’t celebratory or energetic but instead, simply flat, all with an underlying frustration. By that point, the event’s peaks were almost forgotten. That isn’t fair but it was certainly the case for me, genuinely befuddled by my own state. It was a complete contrast with the night prior, as I left NXT TakeOver in awe, the best wrestling show that you could ever wish to see. All jokes aside, that was certainly eye-opening to me. At that point, I got it.
I wasn’t chanting boring and I wasn’t bashing beachballs around but I was certainly restless, definitely distracted. WrestleMania became a puzzling event for a while there, with the main event being the industry’s poisoned chalice. Hopefully, this 2-night format is here to stay as I’d rather not relive that endurance test, not even from home.
Though wrestling history will eventually find its consensus, I’m a firm believer that even the most dismissed men and women had their moments. Take Ryback for example, an industry punching bag now but once upon a time, he represented an opportunity. A brief window to commit and make a star that instead, swiftly disintegrated. Now, that choice may not have changed a thing in the grand scheme of things, as Ryback could’ve found his eventual destination regardless. That’s an understandable guess, but it doesn’t erase the reality.
Another, more recently relevant example is Braun Strowman, who only years removed from potential superstardom, was unceremoniously released. After falling at the first hurdle, maybe even the second, Strowman could rebuild but before long, he’s just another name on that dreaded list. Strowman’s departure surprised people, though it didn’t necessarily upset them. Instead, the ardent viewer had made their mind up, almost conceding defeat as just like his usage, Strowman’s performances declined. Perhaps my favourite case of this truth is Dolph Ziggler though, a somehow still active member of the WWE roster.
Ziggler is too reliable, too versatile and frankly, too good to fall away at the pace of those prior names. Instead, Ziggler remains valuable but in terms of perception, he couldn’t be more distanced from his peak. Ziggler had three single moments, individual opportunities that could’ve catapulted his career upwards. One by one though, they faded, regardless of how unfathomable that seemed during the thrill of each high. Though there was certainly stumbles beforehand, I think the first window arrives in April 2013. Indeed, THAT cash-in victory.
The reaction to that triumph isn’t an accident, it’s a credit to Ziggler’s hard work but also, a knowing resentment of his assumed struggle. There was a sense that Ziggler’s biggest foes were in the front office, earning a raw support that frankly, has only been recaptured a handful of times since. They even weaponized that alleged acrimony, having Ziggler almost lose a time or two and hooking the audience seamlessly along the way. Either way, Ziggler left with the big gold crown, wrestling’s most heroic heel.
One month later, Ziggler was concussed and two months later, he was no longer champion. On the bright side, the audience’s emotional investment was finally embraced, as Ziggler pulled off an immense double-turn in his crushing title loss. The follow-up? Well, he just lost again really, there was no follow-up. In fact, Ziggler almost vanished before long, returning to undercard status in an instant, apparently deemed “injury prone.” To translate, Ziggler wasn’t a chosen one and for now, that was the elected explanation.
Awaiting any kind of genuine opportunity though, Ziggler soon rebounded, returning to form in late 2014. In my view, this is Ziggler’s peak of performance, even if it doesn’t quite match the year prior in terms of relevance. He was in the perfect role now though, eventually resulting in a staggering Survivor Series performance, vanquishing The Authority as Sole Survivor. Well, basically anyway, overcoming a 3-1 deficit but also, being forgotten for around five minutes while Sting stared at Triple H.
Cool moment? Sure, worth emphasising over Ziggler’s potential coronation? Ideally, no but the writing was on the wall and at WrestleMania, any doubt would be erased. By that point, Ziggler was just another guy in the ladder match, a familiar role for the guy that five months prior, seemed set to finally break through. In truth, that’s the end of this story, but there is one final shot at redemption. Another two years down the line, Ziggler produced an unexpected masterpiece, taking The Miz’s Intercontinental Title at No Mercy 2016.
Realistically, this window makes those other instances look like walls. Ziggler’s fate was sealed, this just another reminder for those of us that somehow, still cared. Since then, Ziggler has been fighting uphill, mostly operating as a bitter villain that’s usually responded to with a dismissive groan. Like anyone else, Ziggler certainly has flaws, but he didn’t earn that reaction, his presentation did. At some point, he went from tomorrow’s star to yesterday’s afterthought, the inevitable result of those fleeting opportunities being ignored.
Realistically, this is quite obviously McMahon’s set of toys and now more than ever, he’s unwilling to share. In his mind, Ziggler just wasn’t that guy and no performance could prove otherwise, no crowd reaction would convince him. That doesn’t render Ziggler’s career irrelevant, simply frustrating. He’s still been a featured figure for the industry leader, sustaining his stint with over a decade of success. That’s no mean feat and demands respect, but it’s hard to enjoy the full image without glaring at those single signs of what could’ve been.
Quite simply, the promotion saw Ziggler one way, while much of the audience saw him another. That’s fine, a familiar tale but perhaps what makes Ziggler such an extreme example is his loyalty. Well, you may frame it differently and fair enough, we’ll never know Ziggler’s motivation in general, let alone to consistently re-sign. That’s his choice and it’s almost certainly made him a very wealthy man, fulfilled potential or not. It’s a complicated legacy, one that’ll probably age well but right now, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
I’ll always have those three moments though, glaring windows of opportunity that with each passing day, are steadily forgotten. That’s a shame but Ziggler’s exclusive host always have written the history books and probably always will, so he’s at least in good hands I suppose.
One year ago, I was fighting a losing battle. With my emotional investment on the decline, I decided that I’d behave, enjoying BlissCross’ tag title reign in peace. That peace was soon quite loudly interrupted though and about a month later, Bliss was suddenly lost in the most feared world of all. That world of course being the Fiend-verse, then belonging to yes, you guessed it: ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt. Not ideal, but I tried my best until at some point, concluding that wrestling is bad, actually.
Nikki Cross represented some hope though, naïve as it may have been. I sensed that maybe, just maybe, Cross could halt that progression, saving Bliss from ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt after all. Now, that hope still lives but in a very different form, as Cross has become an Almost Super Hero, a shtick brutal enough that honestly, I think I’d rather Bliss just stay as she is. It’s a complex world we cover here folks, many layers, twists and turns at every corner.
In all seriousness, this topic has intrigued me as of late. I mean, not really but I have 24 of these things to write, so not all of them will be interesting. With that being said, there’s a topic in here somewhere. Look, I love both of these talents, think the world of them in a range of roles, just immensely valuable and versatile performers. Unfortunately, I actively despise both of their current presentations and most of all, get the sense that they’d disagree with my assessment.
That may sound dumb but trust me, it’s not. If you think that your fav’s current direction or gimmick sucks, they probably agree, especially if they’re operating on RAW or SmackDown. Bliss and Cross seem to be outward exceptions to that rule though, with the latter publicizing her push for this presentation. It’s more guess work regarding Bliss but she’s certainly thrown herself into the role and from the outside looking in at least, appears to be having a whale of a time.
Clearly, that’s fine but unfortunately, I think it sucks. Now, from what I can gather, this conflict has divided the many wrestling tastemakers of our world. Some, like myself, have a rather blunt outlook, “well, this is very bad so maybe I should run away and pretend that it’s not happening.” Others, bless them, are more generous, offering support based on their energetic efforts alone. That works, especially if you actually like the direction which obviously, some do. I know a YouTube view when I see one folks.
In fear of losing my way though, this conversation leads me in Malakai Black’s direction. My genuine take is that some professional wrestlers just have bad creative instincts. Well, not bad necessarily, simply instincts that don’t align with my personal taste. I shouldn’t say bad as again, that’s lazy considering that I’m simply not the audience for a comic book hero and/or a spooky witch lady. Either way, not all wrestlers will head down your preferred path if allowed freedom, for better or worse.
That’s simple enough really, it’d be silly to assume otherwise but in the same way, I personally find it equally silly to pretend that I’m onboard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rushing to disparage either woman, I’m just not watching this portion of their career. If they get back on track at some point, I’ll happily hop into the praise, but I’m not stumbling alongside them in the name of loyalty or whatever. That probably makes it my fault when inevitably, creative decides that actually yes, this does suck.
With all respect to the talent, that’s one element that I will stick to my guns on. I’ve experienced this cycle before but for those uninitiated, I’ll explain, best I can of course without coming across like a lunatic. Basically, you know something is bad but in the name of optimism, you pretend that it’s good. Then, the older McMahon will wake up one day and be like “man, this is bad huh?” immediately removing it from television without explanation. Suddenly, your optimism is rather useless.
Wow, that was actually very easy to explain, perhaps this is my real skill after all. Maybe I should write a book, guiding folks through wrestling twitter and selling only six but changing at least two lives along the way. Maybe not though. Anyway, BlissCross man, what a fun team! I love stuff like that, just bizarre chemistry that you don’t see coming but immediately makes sense, one of the few benefits of producing television with such unapologetic haphazardness. Sometimes, you just fall into something of substance.
Unfortunately, the creative forces of RAW and SmackDown don’t seem to embrace those fortunate falls anymore, they haven’t for some time. Instead, they climb out and run away, leaving a shoe or two behind in the process. BlissCross was an act that should’ve rejuvenated Bliss while making Cross. At the very least, it should’ve ticked one of those boxes but instead, it was really just another wasted chapter. Enjoyable for me? Sure and I’m glad that it happened but in the grand scheme of things, the result was as hollow as their initial interaction.
You can’t recreate those possibilities and I resent that potential’s erasure but Bliss and Cross are still in the game so if allowed, I’m sure they’ll create another opportunity eventually. Whether it’ll be capitalized upon or not, time will tell but for now, I’m firmly disconnected and purely as a fan, that makes me rather sad, must say.
Look, I know that the news cycle is hectic these days but even still, this Daniel Bryan saga is fascinating to me. For those unaware, one of the last decade’s biggest stars is no longer under contract, a free agent after twelve years in WWE. Bryan is qualified enough for GOAT candidacy, a genuine gamechanger and one of the world’s most influential, consistently brilliant performers. Yes, that guy, he’s a free agent now. Well, only two months after that earth-shattering news broke, no one seems to cares.
I know, I know, we all share the same assumption. Deep down, everyone believes that Bryan is only headed in one direction, and that’s back where he left off. In that sense, Bryan isn’t even really considered a genuine free agent, as he’s just expected to land back on SmackDown after a lengthy stay at home. That’s fine, his choice of course, but the general discussion fascinates me. Basically, the wrestling world is quite hilariously divided, two opposing sides that are too scared to speculate.
One half of that equation has conceded defeat, certain that Bryan is returning to the show that they don’t watch anyway. The other half, well they’re comforted by that, quietly relieved at those expectations and now awaiting his comeback. With that, the conversation is stalled, everyone’s attention elsewhere while an icon sits the bench, apparently available. The truth is, the wrestling world is currently finding a form that’s been absent for twenty years. There’s another option now, another genuine option that doesn’t require much imagination.
As a fan, I’m certainly not dismissing a run in the Pure ranks for Bryan but it just doesn’t feel especially feasible. Dynamite on the other hand? Well, I think we’ve all see that visual in our head, unrealistic as it may be. Even though their roster is already oversized, AEW’s presence changes that dynamic, putting almost everyone back on the board. It may not be competition but it’s not a mere alternative either, it’s still the major leagues, they are simply playing across the road.
I do understand the resentment of that dialogue though, as it’s certainly hollow. Not every misused wrestler is worth speculating on, especially in a landscape so loaded with mystery. At the same time though, I think that movement in every direction is healthy and frankly, it’s nice to have these possibilities back. Things feel fluid again and that’s worth celebrating in my view, especially after such an era of stagnancy. Though the wrestling world was changing, its talent pool felt frozen in place.
In the US at least, WWE either had them or wanted them. That didn’t prevent great wrestling from happening elsewhere but their recruitment was so aggressive that as a result, everything below felt so incredibly secondary by comparison. It was leftovers, placeholders. The RAW and SmackDown rosters had never been better and yet, the product certainly had, creating a frustrating imbalance across the industry. Great performers were positioned where great performance wasn’t required, while the alternatives tried their best to piece together a competitive crew.
Now, as the wrestling world receives a necessary clean slate, things have very much changed. WWE’s strategy has shifted, cutting world-class talent monthly and slowly but surely, edging back towards a reasonably-sized wrestling roster. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never nice to see anyone lose their job but to me, this current redistribution of wrestlers is a positive for the industry. Steadily, as everyone finds their new home, the standard gets higher, each promotion adding fresh faces and experience along the way.
Now, more and more names can truly contribute, only adding depth to a landscape that’s already heating up. Daniel Bryan isn’t the story because for all his brilliance, he doesn’t really need to be. This is the last chapter of his career and obviously, he should shape it, whenever and wherever he wants. That goes without saying, he’s given us more than enough of his life, an unparalleled body of work in truth. Bryan isn’t some solitary hope to save the rest either, as they no longer need saving.
For the first time in a long team, the US alternatives can collectively compare to WWE’s colossal system. Not in a business sense of course, the industry leader won that game long ago but in terms of talent? The gap is closing. In fear of being awful cliché, this is an exciting time to be a fan. Multiple promotions are steady, mere content providers sure, but still safe in their setup. There are a range of national options and fans are back in the stands, all while with each passing day, more talent becomes available.
We’ve already seen some of the results, and more are ahead. In wrestling, the most exciting decisions aren’t handled by press release but instead, a lights out reveal or post-match attack. It’s electric, the sense that anyone can show up anywhere, that anything to happen. As more and more of these promotions unite, that feeling returns. We’ve already felt it, with an adapting wrestling world providing surprises that would’ve seemed unfathomable only eighteen months ago. There’s one interconnected scene, energetic and vibrant, even if distanced from WWE.
My point, or suggestion at least, is have fun with the speculation. Don’t be advising anyone or judging their decisions but as a fan, enjoy this moment. It wasn’t always this way folks. In fact, it wasn’t this way only a few years ago. This isn’t some naïve ‘new boom period’ statement either, it’s simply a celebration that to me at least, the wrestling world feels truly alive again.
Even today, few wrestlers garner as much debate and discussion as Brock Lesnar. Fifteen months removed from the ring, Lesnar remains in the headlines, all without saying a word himself. That mystique is part of the appeal of course, the very real sense that we never really know what Lesnar is thinking, let alone where he’s headed. In fact, he could be officially retired and we wouldn’t really know, unless Paul Heyman makes some sort of emotional statement on his behalf I suppose.
Scratch that, who am I kidding? Such a speech would only further spark speculation about Lesnar’s inevitable return. In fairness, very few wrestlers conclude their career in a WrestleMania main event. Thus far, that’s the case for Lesnar though, losing the WWE Title to Drew McIntyre in the uncomfortably empty Performance Centre. Since then, we’ve all been waiting, quietly initially and now as fans return, increasingly loudly. With each week, that perception shifts too, earning more excitement than fear or frustration.
No doubt, the return of Brock Lesnar is a complex conversation but the talent remains cut and dry. Lesnar is historically great, an industry outlier in every way. As the talent pool’s split between stars and supporting acts leans more and more in the latter’s direction, Lesnar’s value only expands. In an 8-year stint, Lesnar avoided an era-defining trend, remaining on a tier firmly above the rest. Stars would reach his level on occasion, especially when sharing the ring with Lesnar himself but few could, or were allowed to, maintain that status.
Since turning heel last year, Roman Reigns has finally managed it, making significant strides while ironically, Lesnar silently sits the bench. In Reigns’ story, you find the root of debate about Lesnar, the reality of another return. The talent speaks for itself, as does the reputation, both as an athlete and a draw. That doesn’t tell the entire tale though, quite the opposite. The truth is that Lesnar’s usage became a crutch, the safe exit route after every gamble. If in doubt, put the belt on Brock and in doing so, remove it from the show.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really, the perception that Lesnar’s standing as the brand’s sole star ensuring that no other stars would be made. The ongoing struggle to create stars can’t be divorced from Lesnar, the promotion’s go-to band-aid in a time so desperately requiring innovation. Lesnar became the embodiment of a seemingly never-ending holding pattern, the sense that we’re always waiting for another turning point, forced or unforced. The truth is though, Lesnar has been a constant, central in every alleged restart.
Now, after stumbling through a global pandemic, WWE returns to live crowds and yet here we are again, awaiting Lesnar’s comeback. The fan in me can only be excited for that, especially with a Bobby Lashley dream match available but it’s not as simple as that. Sure, I want the match but can I trust the direction that comes with it? I’ll willingly sign up for quarterly Brock bouts but another world title reign for the sake of one more hollow coronation? No, I think we’ve explored that route enough for a lifetime now.
In different hands, Lesnar’s presence could bring some excitement back to RAW or SmackDown when both shows need it most. Lashley is the obvious choice but even reviving the programme with Reigns, now roles reversed, feels fresh to me. The available Heyman dynamic is particularly enticing, allowing an altered presentation for Lesnar at last. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair. On multiple occasions, both Lesnar and WWE seemed to have good intentions but for many reasons, they seldom produced a fitting finale.
Reigns never truly triumphed over Lesnar and when he almost did, the reign was robbed from him so that always assumed endgame was erased. That wasn’t anyone’s fault, let alone Lesnar’s but the belt going back in his direction certainly didn’t help. To his credit though, Lesnar was inspired at SummerSlam 2019, cementing Seth Rollins in grand fashion. Unfortunately, his efforts were immediately undone by Rollins’ handling afterwards, further damaged by yet another title reign that within months, had Lesnar back as RAW’s centerpiece.
It’s a great act, but in that form, it has nothing left to offer. More than that, it doesn’t just exist in a vacuum either as when champion, Lesnar’s presence seems to actively stall their creative motivation. Even without Lesnar, WWE has struggled to make a gamechanger but necessity is the mother of invention, allowing Lashley to finally fulfil his potential during Brock’s absence. RAW is unquestionably stagnant but Lesnar isn’t the solution for anything but star-power which at some point, has to come from a different source.
Lesnar can’t always be the answer, there has to be another way. For all their efforts, Lashley and McIntyre combined may not make for the attraction that Lesnar does, but the process shouldn’t stop there. This can’t be a case of conceding defeat after the most trying era in WWE history, it should simply inspire yet another roll of the dice. There’s a place for Brock Lesnar, a prominent one at that but as the industry is forced into a fresh start, a return to the mind-numbing norm just can’t be the move.
In 2016, there was a sense that things were changing. Naïve as it may be, NXT’s presence earned some optimism, as WWE dramatically altered their approach to talent recruitment. Their outlook had changed, finally reacting to the increasingly relevant wider wrestling world. In January, they’d signed AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, two titans of NJPW’s recent hot streak. Once the assumed antithesis of a WWE Superstar, Kevin Owens was now a headline act on their previously impenetrable main roster.
As NXT symbolised a potentially brighter future though, the main roster had some catching up to do. Increasingly stagnant, RAW failed to capitalise on The Shield’s monumental split, with Roman Reigns’ ill-advised push reigniting that familiar resentment. As their dynamic with the audience declined back to square one, WWE shook things up again, bringing back the brand split. An always polarising concept, the brand split had been slowly phased out five years earlier, reaching its natural conclusion as the promotion’s talent pool shrunk.
Now though, talent was once again feeling truly underutilized. Not just misplaced either, unfulfilled as clean slates, still waiting for a genuine opportunity of any kind. With that in mind, the brand split made sense, even if some work would have to be done in terms of star power. The talent was certainly there though and as always, the ardent viewer’s eyes headed in SmackDown’s direction. Us nerds love ourselves a pretend underdog and for two decades, SmackDown has provided exactly that.
You can debate how often that SmackDown has actually been good but then again, you can do the same with RAW and for whatever reason, the blue brand has always appealed to me most. It could be something as dumb as the color scheme, perhaps it’s just the top guys that I associate with that show. I don’t know but taste and preferences aside, we can’t lose sight of what SmackDown was at that time. By 2016, the show was years removed from any relevance.
It had never been as eventful as RAW but this most recent era had reached new lows, featuring multi-man tags and little else. The brand split’s return offered a chance to change that though, the start of a new era for the programme that many still rooted for. On draft night, it wasn’t easy to maintain that hope, let alone expectations. In Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, John Cena and Randy Orton, SmackDown certainly had a core worthy of your attention but elsewhere, it was slightly less exciting.
Alongside those names were what remained of Bray Wyatt, The Miz and Dolph Ziggler. Their women’s division would be led by Becky Lynch who for all of her immense talent, had been positioned firmly below RAW’s Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks. She didn’t appear to have much help either, with a supporting cast of Natalya and Naomi as well as unheralded NXT callups Alexa Bliss and Carmella. Though not without potential, that didn’t seem like a group that could make its own belt matter.
The tag division wasn’t lacking leadership, being built around The Usos and NXT’s American Alpha. The former were struggling however, entering to boos as their energetic babyface act became increasingly stale. That was the least of the tag ranks’ worries though as again, there just wasn’t much depth. An initial SummerSlam offering of Dolph Ziggler vs. Dean Ambrose didn’t immediately silence any doubts either but before long, things began to take shape and almost overnight, that perception swiftly shifted.
Armed with television time at last, stagnant characters found a more fitting form, prospects gained some momentum. The top guys did top guy things, as AJ Styles finally reached the unthinkable mountaintop, becoming WWE Champion and combining with Ambrose and Cena for an immense title scene. Others slotted in and out but those three led SmackDown through to February 2017, barely missing along the way. A genuine dream match, Cena and Styles were a magical mix but Ambrose wasn’t out of place, showing especially impressive chemistry with ‘The Phenomenal One.’
Below that, The Miz produced his personal best work, becoming the greatest Intercontinental Champion in recent memory. Opposite Ziggler, Miz made his often debated ceiling apparent, the perfect antagonist in a truly gripping conflict. That was a throwback personal issue, the kind of programme once synonymous with that beautiful white belt. Ziggler even put his career on the line, leading to a masterpiece with Miz at No Mercy. This wasn’t a fresh match, nor was it even a particularly interesting one, it just worked.
Things were allowed to breathe as quite frankly, they had to. Necessity is the mother of invention after all, as SmackDown’s women’s division continually showed. Lacking a lead villain, SmackDown was soon without their first choice of Eva Marie, trying Carmella briefly before settling on Alexa Bliss. Initially appearing to be nothing more than Becky Lynch’s first successful title defence, Bliss grew immensely in that time, maximising the opportunities that had eluded her in NXT. There was an obvious chip on her shoulder, rich in every single promo segment.
With that vacancy filled, the SmackDown women soon became one of the programme’s most popular puzzle pieces. It was very much a group effort, all guided by Lynch’s leadership and eventually, allowing Naomi to receive the coronation that’s so often seemed impossible. That was a story they’d continually missed and honestly, still do but ‘The Land of Opportunity’ made it happen, even if only for a moment or two. Bolstered by Nikki Bella and Mickie James along the way, that division is a rare modern example of positioning talent to succeed.
They made the most of in truth, very little and though that particular crop only stayed together for less than a year, it’s still spoken about fondly. People remember those times, I think they always will honestly. That division was so dynamic that they actively cut into the tag division’s time. It didn’t hurt the show’s quality either, even if The Usos progression towards their eventual heel brilliance was slightly slowed. In early 2017, SmackDown somewhat lost its way, finally changing for good as things were shaken up, again.
Over four years later, SmackDown is now the A-Show, airing on FOX and built around ‘The Tribal Chief’ Roman Reigns. RAW is no fake underdog though, it’s still very much the status quo. The promotion’s consensus leader in terms of quality, SmackDown is stronger than ever these days but in terms of feel, it’s certainly very different now. Right or wrong, there was a sense of struggle to that 2016 squad. They were the afterthoughts, the forgotten ones, a collection of missed opportunities.
The result was something special, a fleeting reminder that this stuff can still connect and sometimes, it happens when you least expect.
It feels like a distant memory now, but my Rhea Ripley scouting report was once unparalleled. Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that four months into her main roster stint, my opinion of Rhea herself hasn’t lessened. However, my actual fandom is far weaker as from the outside looking in, this character appears to be yet another main roster casualty. I don’t watch RAW and SmackDown closely anymore but I’ve tried to follow this Ripley story, tried being the key word.
I was always concerned for Ripley on the main roster, just based on her strengths and weaknesses. Ripley has a natural presence, but that kind of thing is built on booking, which I never had much faith in when RAW has three hours to fill each week. Inevitably, everyone becomes just another wrestler and that doesn’t really allow much mystique at all, quite the opposite in fact. I think that a confident Rhea Ripley has a genuine cool factor but as a viewer, that’s not what I think I’m seeing right now on RAW.
In fairness, people can dismiss my concerns here. Before even arriving on the main roster, Ripley was trusted with a marquee WrestleMania match opposite Charlotte Flair, coming up and immediately becoming champion one year later. On paper and even in reality, that’s objectively good but yet, it all feels dangerously close to being for nought. After three months as champion, Ripley remains a complete mystery in terms of character and personality. Not an intentional mystery either, just a breathing, living grey area.
This isn’t a character that’s sitting in the shadows, kicking ass and not saying a word in-between. Ripley isn’t actually protected at all in that regard, she’s featured regularly, the content just has no direction or intention. To have a performer of this, or any, talent level appear this regularly, talking, wrestling, all of the above and still have them be so non-descript, that really is an artform. I think she’s a babyface, but she’s framed as an almost obnoxious personality, she talks trash and not with any charm either.
She’s also having lessons taught to her by Charlotte Flair, who’s definitely a heel…I think. This process suggests that Ripley isn’t yet a heel and she teams up with babyfaces but she’s also not allowed to be likeable, so it’s a dizzying scenario in truth. Now, as is always the case, some will point the finger at Ripley at herself. Fair enough I suppose, even if misplaced in my personal view. I’ll concede this much: Ripley wasn’t where she needed to be for that Asuka match which admittedly, disappointed me considering the bout’s potential.
I was encouraged by her last big match though, the Charlotte PPV bout with THAT finish. Thought Rhea looked good there, selling with that familiar commitment and fire, even if her offense is still yet to snap as I recall. She’s still young though, so I’m not really sweating those details as to me, this is about much more than just her. In NXT, her weaknesses were mostly hidden and though her usage there certainly wasn’t perfect, that’s not a criticism. Not even close, it’s a compliment.
I’m glad that NXT positioned Ripley to succeed but unfortunately, that brand remains preparation for a far less friendly setting. At this point, RAW and SmackDown have made themselves clear. They will not adapt to anyone’s skill-set, they will instead crowbar every piece of talent into their own format. Shinsuke Nakamura was sent out there for in-ring promos, that’s all the proof you need, they’re firmly cemented in that stance. To them, it’s a sink or swim thing. To me, it’s an immense way to burn through assets.
Ripley is just the latest example, a talent booked competently enough that perhaps, they wasn’t ready for such incompetence. Again, that NXT run wasn’t perfect either, especially the last year or so but Ripley still had some semblance of on-screen direction. I knew who she was, even if it wasn’t a character of great depth or anything like it. In truth though, there are very few of those across the industry. Character is cool, but personality is pivotal and with Ripley, NXT usually hit the high notes.
In that setting, Ripley was herself, not extending too far beyond that comfort zone. Opposite Aliyah and Robert Stone, she was able to play with some comedy but she was still the ass-kicker in that dynamic. Generally, it was even simpler than that, Ripley was a straightforward badass that Charlotte Flair whining aside, wasn’t outwardly unlikable. I don’t know, it’s just a shame as I’m so unsurprised by the words that I’m writing. Six months ago, I had Ripley pencilled in as a division centrepiece for the next decade and more.
Now though, she already feels at a crossroads and a vital rebuild seems almost certainly ahead. Ideally, I’m wrong and have misread this one, which live crowds will prove by erupting for Ripley’s every arrival. My instincts suggest otherwise though and if so, familiar challenges await Ripley. Other NXT figureheads have had similar tasks to complete, recognisable boxes to tick. Some make it through that portion, others fall away and on raw talent, I’d like to think that Ripley will stand firmly alongside the former.
Honestly though, this feels like yet another question that in competent hands, never needed asking. Not everyone can be everything and attempting to prove otherwise has already allowed talent to fall through the cracks, I just hope that Ripley isn’t the latest victim.
It’s time to shake things up in WWE and for content creators like myself, that means its Christmas. Yes folks, it’s that time of the year, those fleeting weeks in which I can pretend that I cover a real sport. Draft chatter is already abuzz and today, I’ll be going full fake scout, producing a big board that Vince Jr can only dream of. Using a tiered system, I’ll be ranking every male talent currently active…. well, some will be inactive too but if I like them, they’ll appear regardless. Oh, and as has become customary for my content, NXT is banned.
Anyway, I’ll explain each step along the way and sense this’ll be long enough so with that in mind, let’s get this party started.
First Scoring Options
As the above title suggests, we’re beginning with the cream of the crop here. This is not only the current roster’s strongest performers though, and nor is it my favourites. These names are also ranked on merit, with this tier belonging exclusively to men that have owned this position. Unless they’ve been a brand’s leading male act before, they are ineligible for this status. On a more subjective note, the names will be listed from best to worst, as I try my best to ponder their potential effectiveness over the next twelve months.
The hottest name in WWE right now, Roman Reigns’ recent heel turn has only solidified him further as WWE’s centrepiece. Reigns’ in-ring consistency has been admirable for years and now armed with his ‘tribal chief’ persona, ‘The Big Dog’ is an obvious choice here. You can debate whether or not Reigns is the total package but in the current main event scene, it seems undeniable that he’s as close as they have to that term. Simply put, the brand with Roman Reigns on-board is at an immediate advantage.
It’s interesting that this tier is led by both current champions and frankly, that’s a decision I’m struggling with myself. I’ve always had issues with McIntyre’s overall skill-set but he’s seldom missed as WWE Champion. Though my doubts remain in terms of the Scotsman’s presence and personality, he’s had an immense reign inside the ropes. McIntyre isn’t an awe-inspiring choice but he’s reliable and perhaps most importantly, he’s relevant right now too.
One of the stars of 2020 thus far, Randy Orton has reminded the world of his greatness this year. The critiques surrounding Orton’s physical performance are unlikely to fade but as a promo, ‘The Legend Killer’ is silencing doubters across the board. Orton’s time as a headline act has been extended as a result, tying his innate ability with a palpable motivation and intensity. Clearly, Orton isn’t a fresh face but that doesn’t make him any less impressive, especially as a character.
This one may surprise people but personally, I just can’t quit Kevin Owens. Now almost four years removed from his Universal Title reign, Owens has struggled to maintain momentum since. In my view though, Owens has untapped potential as a babyface and that explains his presence here. Owens would be seamless as a heel champion too of course, but his case is only helped by a fresh option remaining available. Owens is a popular performer that can talk and wrestle. Book him as a ‘Robin’ all you want, he’s still a Batman to me.
If we’re sticking with the metaphor here, AJ Styles already has multiple championship rings in his possession. One of his era’s greats, Styles’ resume commands a spot on this tier but as his career slowly winds down, he’s an increasingly unlikely choice. Styles has transitioned to a different role over the last year but in the case of an emergency, he’s still one of the first names you’d trust in a leading role. Styles remains immense, even if he’s not quite the man that was WWE Champion twice.
Speaking of champions, Daniel Bryan’s placement here comes with a similar explanation. An all-time great, Bryan already has historically great triumphs under his belt. It just doesn’t feel like Bryan has any interest in leading a brand though, he’d rather take Saito Suplexes from Drew Gulak in a PPV opener. Bryan is a glue guy at heart but on talent alone, he belongs here because in truth, a brand led by Bryan is perhaps the best product possible in current WWE.
The Robin to Those Batmen
Once again, this feels rather self-explanatory but for the sake of clarity, I’ll expand. This tier is for performers that very much know their game and have an established fan-base too. However, I’ve deemed that they are currently unable to lead a brand. That’s not necessarily an indictment either, each case is different. These men are rasslin’s Pippen-equivalents, and remember, Scottie has a great grin!
Sense that Seth’s appearance in this tier could be controversial so allow me to apologise right away. Rollins is a very good professional wrestler but unfortunately, I’ve just never enjoyed him as a leading male. Whether he’s heel or babyface, Rollins just always feels slightly lacking under that spotlight for me. With that being said, it’s his history on top of the card that’s allowed me that conclusion, so perhaps he deserves better. Either way, I have him as my #1 Robin because clearly, he’s a very capable fella.
Few on this whole list are as divisive as Bray Wyatt but his popularity is undeniable. Wyatt is a creative lad that can really talk, his presentation feels more up for debate though. Even though the reasons are almost completely in contrast, Wyatt’s track record as a leading option is similar to Seth’s in my view. I just don’t think he belongs in that role but that doesn’t lessen his overall value, as Wyatt’s collection of characters allow a brand to explore other avenues of entertainment. He’s an asset regardless, but a much more valuable one as a Robin.
Now this is an interesting one as frankly, some of the below tiers may appear a more natural fit for Big E. Personally though, I think that E has progressed far beyond any tier lesser than this one. In my view, Big E is ready to go, a genuine top guy in waiting. Issue is, we’ve simply not seen him in that role yet, so I have to remain cautiously optimistic for now. With that being said, I think E is a dynamic in-ring performer with a magnetic personality. Special talent, more than capable of leading this tier and even the one above.
Limited by his age as well as a prior perception, Bobby Lashley seems unlikely to ever secure a spot as one of WWE’s leading men. While that stings, Lashley’s value shouldn’t be understated, especially after his incredibly encouraging 2020. There’s a physical presence to Lashley that refuses to fade and bell to bell, his sheer effort remains remarkable. When used correctly, Lashley is a perfect co-star, able to shine with those below him while remaining believable opposite top guys. In MVP’s offensive system, Big Van Bob is a star.
What is there even left to say about Rey Mysterio? A truly timeless talent and one of the all-time greats, Mysterio’s ability to stay relevant is almost as astonishing as his performance itself. Mysterio’s career is approaching its closing chapter but he remains incredibly useful, both as a familiar face as well as a star that can still steal the show on any given night.
Once a beloved babyface, Sami Zayn is now one of the finest villains on this whole roster. The current Intercontinental Champion, Zayn is a sublime character that remains expert in-ring, providing versatility across the board. In terms of the casual (lol) WWE audience, he’s probably not the most popular name on this list, but Zayn’s actual ceiling is likely higher than his main roster stint suggests. Provided he’s healthy, Sami Zayn is a masterful pro wrestler and for now at least, an immense Robin.
While I don’t personally view him as the same calibre of performer, Jeff Hardy’s overall value in 2020 is comparable to Mysterio’s. Hardy is a star with his own fanbase and on a roster stacked with guys seeking their own identity, that can’t be overstated. While his performance itself has been good since returning this year, I’m personally just unsure as to Hardy’s actual ceiling within the current landscape. With that being said, he’s an asset to any roster on star-power and innovation alone.
Must say, this whole scenario leaves me feeling rather mean. I like Braun, I’m just left confused as to his standing on this roster. As Universal Champion, Strowman struggled greatly, with his every weakness being exposed until mercifully, he was dethroned at SummerSlam. Strowman is very much a system player and when left to his own devices, can appear almost useless. Again though, I like Strowman and feel that if used correctly, there’s still a leading man buried somewhere within him. Either way, he’s a “star” almost by default, so here he is.
First Options IF…
This is effectively, the Ben Simmons tier. You know? The deal where a national media guy asks with a straight face “what would Ben Simmons be with a consistent jump shot?” This tier is that, but for rasslin, as I rank established guys that need single elements to click in order to find themselves as stars. To be clear, “first” isn’t a literal thing here, as some of these names are supporting acts even IF these fantastical scenarios occurred. ‘First Options IF’ sounds better than ‘Decent Robin IF’ though, right?
Okay, so this one is slightly strange. While Keith Lee’s presentation is currently polarising for a range of reasons, that’s not his “IF” here for me. It’s actually simpler than that, as Keith Lee’s “IF” is a matter of booking and in my view at least, nothing more. Lee is a special talent but commands creative attention, he’s not a guy to go 50/50 with but instead, a physical outlier that requires a star spotlight. Lee isn’t established yet which is why he’s here, but in terms of ability, I really have no doubts.
Few men fit the Ben Simmons comparison better than Ricochet. Arguably the greatest acrobat in wrestling history, Ricochet is a truly spectacular in-ring performer. Unfortunately, his issues on the microphone are well-established and in a WWE in which everyone must speak for ten minutes, that’s pretty problematic. The IF here is simple, either Ricochet needs to become a serviceable promo or unfathomably, he finds a system that’ll hide his weakness.
Though his style may suggest otherwise, Mustafa Ali is more of a Keith Lee than he is a Ricochet. I have no concerns about Ali’s ability to project personality or craft a character. Quite the opposite in fact, I actually think that’s quietly his greatest strength. I don’t think that Ali is quite on Ricochet’s level inside the ropes but he’s still pretty excellent and with limited opportunities, already has the match catalogue to prove it. Much like Lee, this is a case of booking but frankly, a far more urgent one. Forget a push, they simply need to make Ali matter. Any role will do in fact, as I sense he’ll figure out the rest.
Almost certain that everyone reading this can figure out the ‘IF’ here. Samoa Joe’s career is currently in limbo because unfortunately, he appears unable to remain healthy. Historically, that’s devastating, as Joe is an all-time great performer that’s meant a lot to the last two decades of pro wrestling. Even worse, there’s still a leading man locked inside Joe, as he’s probably their best promo left standing. Sadly, he’s currently sitting at the announce desk though and until that changes, Joe’s ranking can only stray so high.
Folks that read my Jey Uso feature on Fightful will be ahead of the curve here, lucky them! This IF is almost Simmons having a consistent jump shot level, as I’m effectively asking you to ponder an alternate universe. Without Jimmy, Jey is a major singles star and vice versa. They are both excellent, that’s why the team works and ideally, why they’ll continue to make history together. Considering his showing at Clash of Champions though, Jey Uso deserves a mention this high. IF Jimmy Uso retired tomorrow, Jey is an elite Robin at the very least but thankfully, I sense that those two have a collection of classics still ahead of them.
Frankly, I was ready to dismiss Aleister Black from this tier. I’m just not sure that it’ll ever work for him as a headline act on the main roster but for now at least, I’ll maintain some optimism. The IF is simple, and that’s whether or not Black can find a presentation that ‘the powers that be’ enjoy as much as the fans. Black’s latest incarnation feels alarmingly prelim but IF that changes, there’s still a dynamic talent to be harnessed there. Must say though, I’m losing faith.
Look, you guys know the deal. Chad Gable is great and IF he weren’t called SHORTY G, he’d have a shot at becoming a genuine Robin. A capable character with limitless in-ring potential, Gable is already great, I just fear that we’ll never know what could’ve been.
Elite Role Players
Okay folks, time to fill out our squads a little. We need some reliable starters, some guys that know their role and play it well. The ceiling of these fellas may vary but you get the deal, these are the supporting cast’s standouts. Whether it be in-ring, on the mic or both, these men maximise their minutes and add strings to any brand’s bow. For the sake of my own sanity, I intend to speed things up a little here, only elaborating when I must.Though they are mostly interchangeable, these names remain in order.
Murphy – a prolific in-ring performer, Murphy’s physical excellence elevates him above his otherwise steady skill set.
The Miz – consistent and reliable, Miz’s comfort on the microphone makes him a great fit anywhere.
Apollo Crews – with a developing promo game to go with his athletic exploits, Crews enters the draft in career form.
Robert Roode – experienced as a headline act, Roode brings poise and professionalism to any roster.
Dolph Ziggler – the ultimate utility player, Ziggler remains a trusted choice for that summer title programme you’ll forget.
Cesaro – an all-time great tag team wrestler, Cesaro’s ceiling seems set to remain forever unknown. As is though, his resume speaks for itself.
John Morrison – while not the promo that his tag team partner is, Morrison’s in-ring performance commands respect.
Sheamus – though his value is declining in my view, Sheamus sheer consistency continues to make him an asset.
Andrade – ugh, Andrade’s talent deserves better than this spot but after two years, he appears truly capped as a good match man at best.
Shinsuke Nakamura – when interested, Nakamura is a comfortable Robin but on presence alone, he can’t fall much further than this.
Drew Gulak – surprisingly versatile, armed with personality and creativity alongside his in-ring prowess.
Cedric Alexander – exciting in-ring performer that’s capable of producing quality, progressing promo game too.
King Corbin – probably warrants a higher spot but unfortunately, Corbin has started on far too many lottery teams.
Future Draft Considerations
Before we get to the bench, I wanted to spotlight a few names that escape the established tiers. These men are loaded with upside, picks for the future. Though they remain in pursuit of their own potential, these performers could eventually become leading men.
I don’t want to be hyperbolic with Dominik Mysterio but through six weeks, he’s probably the greatest athlete in recorded history. Seriously though, Mysterio is clearly talented and thankfully, he’s made the absolute most of every opportunity thus far. Based on his early showings, Mysterio is a project very much worth committing to, even if it’ll inevitably require some patience along the way.
One half of the current RAW Tag Team Champions, Montez Ford’s potential is well-documented. With natural personality and dare I say, electric presence, Ford very much has the charisma to skyrocket his career. He has the athleticism to match too and when Ford is indeed trusted as a singles act, I sense he’ll flourish. The question is, when should that move be made and how? How does Ford maintain his character while climbing the card? Those questions are the only hurdles in Ford’s way.
Though he came dangerously close to being positioned as a full-time role player, I still feel as though Garza is just getting started. There’s a charm to Garza that suggests his ceiling could be much higher than what we’ve seen thus far and for that reason alone, he warrants a spot here. Personally, I remain firmly on Team Andrade but due to circumstance alone, I’m naturally more optimistic about Garza’s chances.
Onto our bench unit next and more specifically, those that can provide us with a useful scoring spark. In wrestling terms, that’s a fleeting good match, a surprising promo of note or even just a wild dash of personality. These men aren’t regulars in any starting line-up for me, but they can be useful all the same, even producing standout performances from one show to another. Once again, I’ll elaborate where I must.
Otis – though some will suggest higher for Otis, he remains nothing but comic relief for me personally. He’s good comic relief though, must be said.
Erik – with an in-ring ceiling that’s been very much forgotten, Erik can produce unique, exciting matches with a range of opponents.
Kalisto – GOOD LUCHA THINGS
Humberto Carrillo – very handsome and incredibly athletic, Carrillo has innovative offence too.
Gran Metalik – sublime in-ring performer that thus far at least, has been unable to flex that muscle as often as I’d like.
Akira Tozawa – great and accomplished worker that’ll willingly play a ninja.
Mojo Rawley – genuinely talented and relatively versatile too, Rawley simply needs reps at this juncture.
Tucker – a somewhat underrated in-ring performer, Tucker is capped here by his placement as Otis’ straight man.
Lince Dorado – while my least favourite Lucha House Partier, Lince is still a very useful good match man.
Bo Dallas – throws himself into characters and inexplicably, remains surprisingly young too.
Riddick Moss – I like Riddick Moss
There to provide leadership and general knowhow, veterans are a pivotal piece of any championship team. Whether they remain in the rotation or simply rally their troops from the sidelines, these experienced pros play their role with comfort and confidence.
MVP – an elite role player that’s winding down his in-ring career, MVP will be effective outside the ropes for years to come.
R-Truth – the master of comedic cameos, R-Truth is at the tale-end of a unique career to be very much proud of.
Shelton Benjamin – still a standout athlete with increasing on-screen comfort, Benjamin remains as useful as any product allows him to be.
Titus O’Neil – likeable on-screen and loveable off, O’Neil is a natural leader even if sadly, he’ll mostly sit the bench.
Big Show – a retirement away from the Hall of Fame, Show provides guidance as well as a mean 10-minute offensive spurt when the game allows.
Okay look, I’m going to be honest here: this idea came to me mere hours ago and even still, I can’t believe I actually explored it to this degree. Anyway, it’s now 2 am and I’m out, I’ll be back next week with the exact same article for the women’s division. Speak then pals.